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AMD Phenom II X6 1090T And 890FX Platform Review: Hello, Leo

AMD Can Do Six Cores, Too

At $1,000, it’s simply not possible to use the word value when talking about Intel’s Core i7-980X. Yes, it’s nice that the company is serving up an extra two cores at the same premium price point. And yes, we’re glad to see Intel extending the life of its LGA 1366 interface. But currently, your options for six-core CPUs from Intel include the Core i7-980X and Xeon 5600-series chips. Surprise—all of the hexa-core models are priced at a grand or more. Those prices pretty much only make sense for the folks running heavily-threaded apps in a work environment, who stand to save valuable time/money on encode projects.

AMD’s Opteron 2400-series processors also sport six cores, and they’re significantly less expensive (as low as $455 for the 2.2 GHz 2427). The compromise, of course, is that they’re not as fast. Here, you’re paying for the ability to enable a dual-socket machine equipped with twelve total cores. As with the Intel hexa-cores, these CPUs are totally overkill on the desktop.

Meet The Phenom II X6

Enter the Phenom II X6—what I’d consider to be the first viable six-core option for desktop power users.

The Core i7-980X demonstrated the benefits of increased processor parallelization versus Intel’s previous flagship, the Core i7-975. With both chips running at 3.33 GHz, it is easy to see where an extra two cores buys you better performance.

AMD’s new flagship Phenom II X6 is going to show us whether spending extra money on two extra cores is a smart move. After all, the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition bears a $185 MSRP, while the Phenom II X6 1090T will go for $295. Does a 50% higher core count translate into a greater than 50% price bump?

I'll be honest. My immediate reaction would be that, no, simply adding two cores (and the corresponding L1/L2 caches that go with them) does not map over to a correspondingly higher price tag. But AMD is trying to sweeten the pot by introducing Turbo CORE technology, which we’ve already previewed. Briefly, Turbo CORE attempts to capitalize on the TDP headroom freed up when three or more cores are idle by dynamically overclocking the remaining three cores. On the Phenom II X6 1090T, Turbo CORE takes a 3.2 GHz CPU and boosts a trio of cores up to 3.6 GHz.

As a result, almost any way you cut it, a six-core Phenom II X6 should be faster than the Phenom II X4. The only exception would be when taxing exactly four threads causes the processor to drop to 3.2 GHz, keeping it from benefiting from the fifth and sixth cores, while operating at a lower clock rate than the 3.4 GHz Phenom II X4 965.

Say Hello To 890FX

That’s not all, either. AMD is also launching a revised version of its discrete-only desktop platform. The 890FX might sound like a spanking-new northbridge, but it’s really quite similar to the 790FX preceding it. You’ll find that the biggest difference is the SB850 southbridge accompanying the updated platform. We’ll dig deeper into that piece of logic shortly. For now, consider it part two of a new three-part platform AMD is calling Leo, successor to the Dragon platform. The third component is a Radeon HD 5800-series graphics card.

First, let’s talk about what it means to add two cores to the Phenom II family.